Saturday, February 15, 2014

Funny Plastic Helmets

"Ya know Schmoe", a slightly fuzzy Willie Wines said to an even more fuzzy Joseph Schmoe, "there's one thing I have never understood."

"What's that Willie?"

"Why is it that you guys in California always wear those funny plastic helmets?"

I don't remember my answer, but it was probably something about that most of us have never worn anything BUT those funny plastic helmets. The fact is, most of us love our funny plastic helmets and really have no desire to switch to leather. There are departments out here that wear leather, but plastic is the rule rather than the exception.

 My first helmet on the left, my last on the right.

Before any of the leather forever crowd sends me any nasty e-mails, please understand that most of us don't have anything against leather and wouldn't get too awful bent out of shape if our department went to a leather helmet. But, as much as leather is a tradition  in many fire departments, plastic (thermo-plastic to be exact) is as much a tradition for us.

I was very fortunate to meet Ray Russell, the founder of Phenix Fire Technology, early in my career. We served in the same volunteer fire company, located in Home Gardens CA. Ray was a Volunteer Captain with the County F.D, who oversaw us. He was also our training officer.

We wore Phenix helmets, marketed as First Due Firefighter Helmets by Western Fire Equipment. As we had an "in" with Ray, many of us had our own. I still have my very first helmet, it sits proudly on my "I Love Me" shelf.

The On-line edition of our local rag, the Press-Enterprise recently ran a photo essay on Phenix Technology, showcasing some of their products and giving an overview of the company.  IT CAN BE FOUND HERE.

I was happy to see the article and photos, Ray and his family have worked really hard to develop the company and it's products.

With the exception of two shifts in February of 1993, from June of 1981 until this very day, Phenix thermo-plastic helmets were the only helmets to grace my head.

The exception occurred when our sometimes knucklehead equipment manager got into a beef with Phenix and then purchased a few grossly inferior Morning Pride Lite Force IV helmets. As I was getting promoted to captain, I was issued one of the new helmets. I hated it so much, I went to see Ray over at Phenix and purchased a shiny red captains helmet. I wore it for many years nobody noticed but the sometimes knucklehead equipment manager. He may have said something, I may have told him to F*#@ himself. A short time later, the beef was resolved and we began buying Phenix helmets again. The Morning pride helmets, with at least one exception, likely ended up in Mexico.

Even though I no longer fight fire, the department requires me to wear a lid when photographing emergency scenes. I purchased my last department issued lid when I retired and the chief was kind enough to allow me to still wear it when it is needed. It's kind of ironic, but my very first helmet and my last helmet are both Phenix First-Dues with the number 13 on them. What goes around comes around.

Good luck to Ray, his family and the rest of the folks over at Phenix. While thermo-plastic may not be considered traditional by many, it is our tradition.

Thanks for reading,



  1. I don't think many outside of the Left Coast expects you all to go leather. I myself see no point to the extra weight. I'm quite happy with my traditional/leather STYLE helmet, and could not imagine having to wear one of those two monstrosities on my head.

    So stick with plastic, California; you'll get no argument from me. But I'm beggin ya- ditch the salad bowl!

  2. BH - So let me get this straight. You're telling me that you wear a PLEATHER helmet?

    Just askin'.

    Thanks for the comment

    1. Negative! 100% plastic. Just not a bowl, like some people I could mention. *cough*

  3. Negative. Traditional style, all plastic.

    No salad bowls allowed.

  4. Captain...long time no updates. Everything OK?